Understanding the Book of Judges

Understanding the Book of Judges

The Book of Judges closely parallels the times we live in today. We can learn much about our culture from studying this Bible book! Scholar Abraham Kuruvilla introduces us to this study:

The verb “to judge” does not always indicate a judicial functionary. In Judges, the function of these God-raised leaders is best as seen as military judge-deliverers, as indicated in 2:16–17:

And Yahweh raised up judges
who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them.
Judges 2:16–17

The book is gory, with bloodletting without remit. Altogether, roughly a quarter of a million people perish in Judges! No wonder there is weeping by the nation at the beginning (2:4), and there is weeping by the nation at the end (20:23, 26; 21:2).

Evildoing and the recurring cycles of ever worsening leadership take over the structure of the book. All this, despite the graciousness of God in intervening in each chaotic iteration to raise up a deliverer to defeat the oppressing enemy. So, as one traverses the book, it is not only the judges who become increasingly misguided, but the Israelites themselves become progressively more culpable. And after the judges have passed from the scene, the Israelites plunge into an immoral cauldron of idolatry and brutality, including the slaughter of almost an entire tribe in a civil war (Judges 19–21). This book is, thus, quite negative: it begins bleakly, continues darkly, and ends horribly in an age of godlessness and leaderlessness, when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (21:25).

Thus, though the book is about the misdeeds of God’s leaders, it is also entirely applicable to the lives of God’s people, for the latter are only as good as the former are. God’s leaders draw God’s people to their level, explaining the higher standards for leadership throughout Scripture Besides, all of God’s people are leaders in some arena or another, to some degree, in some fashion. Therefore it behooves all believers to take the lessons of the book of Judges to heart.

Here are the main themes of each of the passages of the book:

  • Uncompromising faithfulness to God, maintenance of godly traditional values, and reliance on divine strategies for success results in divine blessing (1:1–2:5)

  • Personal experience of God produces unwavering commitment to him (2:6–3:11 [Othniel])

  • Integrity in life, driven by reverence for God and reliance upon him, receives divine approbation (3:12–31 [Ehud])

  • Reverencing of God by fearless faith characterizes godly leadership (4:1–24 [Barak])

  • Participation in the endeavors of God, with God, keeps one in the realm of his blessing (5:1–31 [Song of Deborah])

  • Refusal to take prideful credit for divine action results in blessing (6:1–7:22 [Gideon-1])

  • Godliness is expressed in the rejection of self-glorifying pursuits (7:23–8:32 [Gideon-2])

  • An illicit thirst for power brings about the fitting retribution of God (8:33–10:5 [Abimelech])

  • Ungodly manipulation of God for selfish purposes can lead to tragic loss of blessing (10:6–12:15 [Jephthah])

  • Rejection of Yahweh’s interests in favor of selfish passions leads only to trouble (13:1–14:20 [Samson-1])

  • Disdaining of one’s divine calling can lead to destruction (15:1–16:31 [Samson-2])

  • Godless leadership brings about godlessness in society (17:1–18:31)

  • Immoral unconcern for the weak and defenseless marks a godless and leaderless community (19:1–30)

  • Continued ungodliness only leads to more evildoing, greater havoc, and a hopeless future (20:1–21:25)

And as God’s leaders and God’s people actualize these thrusts in their lives, conforming to Christlikeness pericope by pericope and sermon by sermon by the power of the Spirit, the Father’s kingdom is, in a sense, being established. This is the goal of applying Scripture, and of applying the book of Judges in particular. A grand task, indeed!